There was a time when, as The Man from Madras Musings remembers only too well, our city had one flyover – at the Gemini intersection. Thereafter, sometime in the 1990s, we broke out into a rash of them and they continue to dominate Chennai’s skyline. Some are straight, others curve, while yet others branch off into confusing branches and loops, the last being named four-leaf clovers perhaps in commemoration of the green cover they displaced. All of them, however, have one problem in common – namely the space underneath. And all the bleaching powders and disinfectants of Arabia will not sweeten that little land, to paraphrase Lady Macbeth.
The most practical solution is to convert them into parking spaces. After all, these flyovers did come into existence chiefly to cater to the vehicular population of Chennai and so we might as well go the whole hog. And that has happened under many flyovers. Not so in the case of the one on RK Salai. This thoroughfare, for long the Chief Minister’s Way no matter who was in office, hospital, prison, sick-at-home or meditating on the Marina, has been the royal route so to speak and so it became necessary to beautify it in the best traditions of our city’s Corporation. Imagine the CM (whomever that may be) driving down and seeing a whole lot of cars parked under the flyover. What an abomination it would be for those Chief Ministerly eyes. And so a plan was made.
The powers-that-be decided that this space would become a plaza of sorts, or, given the plans, may be platz or piazza would have been a more appropriate term. This, said the powers-that-be, would become a space for modern art. These would be dotting the area, so ran the dotty scheme. And then we would have children playing open air games such as hopscotch, snakes and ladders and maybe catch-catch. Add a troubadour or two and a few potted plants and you could consider yourself to be in Venice. The only absent element was the gondola, which too could be arranged each time the space flooded owing to rain.
Work proceeded briskly thereafter. The vagrants who slept under the flyover were scooped up and dropped elsewhere. Flagstones or their concrete equivalents were laid. A couple of ferns came along. By way of modern art there was something that, at least to MMM’s eyes, appeared to be an upturned broom with baskets festooned all along its handle. On these receptacles reposed some rubber tyres. What this ensemble was supposed to mean was beyond MMM but, then, much of modern art is that way. It was bruited about that a very large sum had been spent on the artwork and the rest.
All was well for a couple of weeks. And then the vagrants came back. They missed their home, but it was worth it, for, in the month or two’s absence, someone had redecorated their demesne at someone else’s expense. And now all was well. The police tried their best to evict the settlers, but soon lost interest. They even became pally with them. The tyres were removed from the baskets and the children of the vagrants (the numbers had multiplied while on holiday) played around with them. The vast open space became a convenient spot to lie down and watch traffic go by. Last seen, the tyres had vanished and the baskets around the broom were used for storing clothes. Talk of built in wardrobes!